Disclaimer: Absolutely not mine.

"Miserable weather!"

Many people stepped quickly along Eastgate Road that evening – the dregs of a weary humanity; cold, desolate, and hungry. Lambeth Parish was no place to venture alone at night – the waifs and strays changed quickly to beggars and thieves once quiet darkness settled over London. That darkness had long since settled over the great city… yet none of society's flotsam had yet ventured to disturb the solitude of a certain slight, (definitely) female, figure proceeding mulishly through the winter sleet. Curious eyes would note both her scandalous hatlessness, and the lack of a proper winter coat - but it would appear from her proud bearing that the figure missed neither. Certainly the peculiarity of her mannish attire was no impediment to a glare colder than ice, which was quite enough to send a certain beggar – addled by drink perhaps, or merely unwise – scuttling back in search of easier prey.

This aura of inapproachability would have sat strangely on any other figure of two and twenty; the glare seemed stranger still, originating as it did from a woman who looked like (and indeed was) a gentleman's daughter. There was no indication that this was a figure worsted by a hard life – her shoes, although practical, were not worn at the heels or broken at the toes. Her clothes were good, and fashionably cut – innocent of the rents and patches and tatters that slunk past her, nervously avoiding eye-contact. Her face was fair and free of lines, although this description could not do justice; 'arrestingly beautiful' would be a fairer narrative, despite the scowl that marred the perfection of her features.

This was a bad night to be outside both hatless and coatless – the rain was pitiless, freezing, and increasing. A wind whistled and moaned, funnelled by narrow streets, seeking to snuff every source of warmth. The fumes from the gas works, and the general reek of London seemed to fall with the rain, sticking to the skin with an unpleasant greasiness. Generally, the roadway was muddy, the pavement was icy, the lamps burned only dimly, and that dreary district of London looked its very gloomiest and worst. Certainly this was not an evening to be about, and alone, yet this was where Natsuki Kruger found herself: striding hatless and penniless with rain beating her unprotected head.

Although her face remained set in its fierce, awesome glower, her eyes gazed wistfully at the rows of houses that lined the road along which she progressed. She had been walking the dangerous streets a long time and was thoroughly tired, cold, and annoyed. Her affairs had clearly come to an abrupt and unforeseen crisis, but it was very late in the day to be attempting to resolve it, and in her heart she had since resigned herself to walking the streets all night.

The door of the grandest of the old houses (for this had once been a proud area and the crumbling dwellings reflected that) was standing propped open, cheerful light escaping to flood the pavement outside. Perhaps unconsciously, Natsuki Kruger altered her weary course towards it, until the light spilled over her face (revealing perchance a trace more exhaustion than might otherwise have been noticeable). A wagon stood beside the curb, and two burly men struggled to lift an obviously expensive cabinet onto it. In the doorway, watching silently, a young woman stood, with her face the very picture of calm. This calm façade only faltered for a split-instant – reappearing so quickly that a witness would have doubted whether he had seen it change at all – and that split-instant was the moment the woman laid eyes on Natsuki Kruger.

Alas; this chapter was kindly beta'd by Black Mephistopheles, whom (in my sorry delay to post this up) I have sorely abused. There is no kindness I could do to repay him, or to atone the time that I have taken in posting his improvements. I can only point to him as a true scholar, and a fine gentleman.